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Why Amazon’s Explanation Is None At All

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I worried that this would happen. Amazon offers up some plausible excuse - oh my it was an overzealous cataloguing error - and everyone assumes that this issue is over. But it’s not over, or at least it shouldn’t be, because the #AmazonFail episode is an example of how easily one company can make content essentially disappear from consumers.  

Between the 2 year span of 1999-2001 Napster enabled millions of music lovers to download their music and started a revolution that changed the music industry forever. Instead of adapting to this, the music industry fought it. Taking advantage their ignorance and lack of initiative, Apple stepped in and grabbed a hold of a huge majority in the digital download business.

With market share comes power. Apple dictated to the music industry how music would be sold (by individual song and not album) and for how much ($.99). This is the danger of that Cory Doctorow spoke of in his speech at the Tools of Change conference when discussing the Kindle’s DRM. To wit: cede control of your product to Amazon at your own peril.

So why does this issue of deranking matter now that Amazon has cleaned up its mess? Shouldn’t we just all get on with our business? No and here is why.

Point 1: This is not a one-off mistake. According to a post at Teleread.org, books with sexy content have been targeted by Amazon before. Craig Seymour, author of "All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C.," was deranked in February. When questioned about this, Amazon claimed that it was adult content being intentionally filtered out. On April 10, 2009, Mark Probst, noticed that Gay romance authors Erastes and Alex Beecroft’s books from Running Press were deranked. On April 11, 2009, hundreds of GLBT books, including Probst’s own book, The Filly, were deranked. Amazon gave Probst the same response that certain content was deemed adult and thus filtered out of searches and lists. On April 12, 2009, all hell broke loose when the Twitterverse picked up on the deranking of gay, lesbian, erotic and feminist books. But to be clear, this started as far back as 2008. It’s just now come to a head.

Point 2: Ranking has importance because ranking helps dictate visibility. Visibility is vital for sales. Most people in book selling will tell you that the best advertisement a book has is its presence in a store. This is true for online retailing as well. If you can’t find it, you can’t buy it. #Amazonfail showed us that deranking books based on publisher supplied metadata can remove a book from front page searches, book page searches, suggested reads lists, and bestseller lists. #Amazonfail showed us that Amazon can internally tweak algorithms to place the content that it desires at the top of the lists.

Point 3: Centralized power in one hands will adversely effect creative content. (see e.g., my post from last week). Essentially we are trading in one monolith (Wal-Mart) for another (Amazon) and with Amazon we can now see how easy it is for the content visibility to be manipulated. Many people have complained about Wal-Mart’s influence on publishing. There is no reason that Amazon won’t attempt to have the same kind of influence so long as it is maximizing profit.

Point 4: Sara Nelson, formerly of PW, makes the case that Amazon can and should be able to do whatever it wants with its content. I don’t think that Amazon is anti-gay, but it is true that the material that was targeted for exclusion and de ranking were all dealing with gay, lesbian, transgender, sex, erotica, and erotic romance. It was not books about Christianity or violence or mysteries. There was a specific targeted subsection of books that was being adversely affected. As Richard Nash said, it is always this subsection of books that is being targeted.

Point 5. Words without action have no meaning. While it is true, to some extent, that Amazon can sell whatever it likes consumers have those same unfettered choices in their book buying decisions. Yes, Amazon makes it incredibly easy to buy books at its site but at some point, consumers can and will get fed up enough to take their dollars elsewhere. Dear Author is going to start working with IndieBound even though Amazon Affiliate dollars is the only income that DA earns. I know that SmartBitches will be doing the same although it represents a pretty significant financial loss to them.

Point 6. Readers cannot be the only ones to act. We have limited power, notwithstanding the awesome response that the Twitter community wrung from Amazon. Publishers need to start getting their act together, providing social platforms for readers along with easy, convenient ways to order books at a discount direct from the publisher. Booksellers, both independent and chain, have to do a better job of serving the customer online and in the physical stores by pricing its books competitively and making it easy to shop. Authors need to be mindful of whom they are supporting on their own websites.

No change is completely painfree. Moving away from Amazon isn’t a decision that is made lightly and it’s completely understandable if a reader/author/publisher does not but idling down* (Larissa Ione) after Amazon gives a half assed response won’t effectuate positive change. In order for Amazon to right this situation it must do the following:

(a)   Tell us what the adult content policy is.

(b)   Explain how one is notified of their book being filtered by the adult policy so the author can challenge it.

(c)   Apologize for targeting gay/lesbian/sex/erotica/erotic books unfairly and promise that it will not do so again.

*I’m borrowing the phrase “idle down” from Larissa Ione’s books. I’m sure she didn’t invent it but hers was the first place I read it.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

134 Comments

  1. Portia Da Costa
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 04:18:15

    Many thanks for a wonderful summary and assessment of the #amazonfail situation. Very thought provoking.

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  2. Charlotte Stein
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 04:31:50

    I don’t mind that much if they don’t apologise. The only thing I care about is them rectifying this, swiftly. If they want to blunder through some “glitch” or experiment to see if the wrath of Us would fall down on their heads- fine. Go to it Amazon. Here’s the wrath with a side helping of righteous fury that melts faces like the end of Indiana Jones.

    But they still haven’t restored ranks to many Amazon UK books. That, I mind very much. An apology means very little when erotica is ranked on .com but still naked on .co.uk.

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  3. Nadia Lee
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 04:50:20

    I don’t think it’s going to be the last time Amazon tries something like this though. This time it was erotic / homosexual contents, but technically it can be anything Amazon feels like targeting.

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  4. Adriana Kraft
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:21:39

    Excellent article. You are so correct, authors in these categories were being targeted earlier and their was no randomness in their selection. It isn’t over and it will require not only vigilance but action from everyone who cares – not just about these genres, but about our rights as a reading and writing and publishing public.

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  5. Claire
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:39:37

    Very interesting article. I never knew they tweaked their sales rankings like that. It sounds ridiculous to me. I hope the publishers get their act together, improve their websites to compete with amazon and be honest about their rankings.

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  6. roslynholcomb
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:44:05

    I won’t be going back to Amazon and this will be very difficult for me as most of the local bookstores don’t carry romance books by black authors. I have very limited shopping time and going to the store, only to discover they don’t have the book and will have to order it thus necessitating yet another trip to the store is arduous, but I’m willing to do it because I won’t spend my money with a company I don’t trust. If they’ll play these games with my books, imagine what they’ll do with my credit card information.

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  7. Tess MacKall
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:47:19

    Great line up of thoughts on all this. And Amazon does indeed owe an apology. No one truly believes it was just an error. And the fact that we don’t should signal danger.

    I’m hearing that the Affiliate Program is being dropped as of May 1. Friends have received email advising them of this. Has anyone else received one?

    This entire episode has shown one great thing and that is the fact WE do have power. Maybe it is time to exercise that power further. It truly bothers me that authors of e-books especially have no real choice of distribution other than the biggies. And it’s clear that at least Amazon is an eight hundred pound gorilla wannabe.

    Maybe it’s time for small publishers to band together and challenge all this. Especially, those e publishers who deal in erotic titles. Together they just might make a hole in the distribution market. A clearinghouse made up of small presses intended for erotic works maybe? Together it wouldn’t be so small.

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  8. Nora Roberts
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:51:05

    Well done article, Jane.

    One comment on independent bookstores. Most (if not all) can’t possibly buy in the volume of chains much less Amazon, therefore they pay more for the books than those outlets. Indies can’t pass along a discount to customers they don’t get themselves. Where they need to focus and shine, imo, is personal customer service.

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  9. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:54:02

    Not only should Amazon become more transparent, they should stop trying to be a nanny. If I am searching for straight or gay erotica, I am not likely to be alarmed when I find it. I do most of my Google searching with moderate filtering set on, and am happy that Google gives me the option. (Besides I object to violence and objectification more than I do sex.) I’d be much happier if Amazon gave people an ‘opt-out’ prude-filter* to logged in customers. You’re only supposed to be able to log in if you’re not a minor and have a credit card number, right?

    *I like the term prude filter much more than that awful term “family friendly.” What I consider friendly for my family is not what others may consider friendly for their families.

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  10. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 05:57:20

    Hmmph…
    ….hate literatures still showing up at Amazon.com when using “homosexuality” as a keyword.

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  11. Larissa
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:02:07

    Ack! My comment got eaten! Anyway, wanted to say NO! Not dialing back! Right after the “official statement,” I sent Amazon a letter (waiting on a response) and I have a post going up at Writeminded about the whole mess and the inadequate response. Grr.

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  12. vashtan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:14:45

    Thank you – that’s a brilliant post! I’ll link this everywhere.

    ReplyReply

  13. Stumbling Over Chaos :: The one that may cause nightmares
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:15:04

    [...] you been following the #amazonfail kerfluffle at all? [...]

  14. Elf
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:15:41

    Re: Charlotte #2
    That’s very interesting. I thought one of the “theories of the glitch” had to do with a French representative “goofing” some database error on amazon.fr, which perpetuated the change throughout all systems. I believe that about as far as I can throw it, but some people are ready to take any explanation as “ooh, thank goodness I don’t have to throw my Amazon out along with the bathwater.”* If the changes from .com are not replicating to .uk, what does that say about the French stealth-assassin theory?

    *PS – I fully understand why people want to continue to use Amazon, especially authors, as it is a major revenue stream for them. Not trying to snark that group of people, just the “please give me any excuse to let them off the hook” mindset…
    Speaking of, has anyone else seen the #sorryAmazon twitter feed? I threw up a bit in my mouth, tbh.

    And Elaine – I like to call it the “babysit the bigots” filter. But I can be crass when I’m peeved. Excuse the mess! lol

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  15. Tess MacKall
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:22:15

    What? There is actually an “apology” thread going on FOR Amazon? Not even going to look at that.

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  16. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:31:50

    re Elf @14:

    Okay: I like the “babysit the bigots” filter also, even though is is a few more charactesr to type. Mmmm…btb filter?

    When my niece J was 16, she visited from California. She is a reader so I asked my sister if she put any limits on what J reads, because I wanted to know if I could just let her browse in my library. My sister responded that she didn’t put any limits on what J read or watched: J could figure it out herself. J spent the week happily reading through Janet Evanovitch.

    What a concept: let the parents decide!

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  17. AQ
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 06:40:37

    Beautiful article. Well said.

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  18. Portia Da Costa
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 07:14:57

    I’ve been checking Amazon.co.uk again, and in the smallish sample I’ve had time to look at, all books with the ‘Fiction – Adult’ designation in the ‘Look for similar items by subject’ part of the listing remain unranked.

    Seems a book can be more explicit, and have tags like ‘erotic’ or ‘erotic fiction’ or ‘erotic romance’ at Amazon.co.uk and be ranked, but not ‘fiction – adult’.

    Which seems to suggest some kind of filtering is still going on at Amazon.co.uk or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, they haven’t had chance to restore rankings to these books and/or maybe are judging them case by case, or publisher by publisher or whatever?

    I’m just guessing here…

    So far it’s still partly #amazonUKfail for my Black Lace novels

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  19. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 07:44:50

    One comment on independent bookstores. Most (if not all) can't possibly buy in the volume of chains much less Amazon, therefore they pay more for the books than those outlets. Indies can't pass along a discount to customers they don't get themselves. Where they need to focus and shine, imo, is personal customer service.

    Too true, Nora, yet this is, unfortunately, where so many of them fail, especially with respect to genre books.

    I personally love independent bookstores. They’re generally quirky and charming and my old favorite local bookstore from when I lived in Ohio, The Learned Owl, in Hudson, had some of the most enthusiastic booklovers ever, who never ever looked down their noses, no matter what you were looking for.

    There’s also an absolutely wonderful one in Miami at which I was scheduled for a reading/signing with my second book. I was so excited, because this is a fairly influential store in South Florida–a beautiful store and their readings always get publicized. On the day, I even got there early so I could browse. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find my own book anywhere. Not on the shelves– not on the tables where every other author who was scheduled for a reading that month was prominently displayed. When I asked where my books were, a clerk did some looking around and finally told me they were behind the secondary register in the back, “to keep them safe.”

    I went to look and yep, there they were. A big pile, behind the secondary register where no one could get to them unless they were actually looking for them. Meanwhile, on the tables, out in the open and presumably “unsafe,” were piles and piles of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and the Twilight series books and books for every single visiting author for that month with a little placard and the date of the reading. (I actually had a little placard on one of the tables too– on a pile of Twilight.)

    Never have I felt so utterly ghettoized. I was tempted not to read at all, but I had a commitment, so I did my reading and as I read (it was Accent, btw), more and more people from the nearby café and who’d been wandering through and even employees stopped to listen and ask questions and ultimately, purchase books. After the event was over, the assistant manager who was in charge of scheduling readings said to me, “Wow, before this, I had no idea that MTV even published books or that they could even be any good.”

    Ouch.

    And the sad part is, this is so typical of the type of attitude that pervades many of the indie bookstores. If they really do want to draw people to them in the wake of Amazon’s massive cock up, then they really need to shine with respect to customer service– ALL customers, buying all sorts of books, not just the ones they deem worthy. (Not to mention, their authors… *g*)

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  20. Delia
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 07:59:00

    I feel I should mention, with regards to independent stores, that if you don’t ask for them to stock a specific type of item, they likely won’t get it. But if you do? I’ve never had an indie tell me “No, we aren’t going to buy that for you.” Hell, even my library orders things if I ask for them. The excuse that no one within a fifty mile radius will stock things you want is a little silly to me.

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  21. Lucinda Betts
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 08:00:17

    The Amazon kerfuffle made Yahoo headline news this morning.

    • Amazon restores books’ rankings after ‘embarrassing’ error

    By nine pm last night, my books once again existed when I searched for “Lucinda Betts” in all categories. Amie Stuart’s and Jackie Barbosa’s books seem to be back in place, too.

    It is a scary thing when one company can wipe away years of hard word with a so-called “embarrassing error.” More frightening than the loss of years of hard work is the feeling of persecution by the culture squad. Not pleasant.

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  22. Nora Roberts
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 08:28:33

    Barbara, there’s just no excuse for that kind of treatment–and I understand it completely as I’ve dealt with it, too, when on tour. In fact, I do believe I did an event at that same Miami store–and got the same ‘welcome’.

    Shameless plug for my husband’s indie: Come sign at Turn The Page! The staff knows how to treat authors, and customers.

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  23. Nikki Magennis
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 08:34:03

    Excellent and well-considered article, thank you.

    I’m also not happy with Amazon’s explanation – especially as my novels are still unlisted/ranked at amazon.uk. I’m also waiting for them to explain how LGBT books got classified as ‘adult’.

    Meanwhile, I’ve discovered Powell’s, which seems like a lovely site. It’s quite refreshing to look elsewhere for books, having become more and more disenchanted with Amazon over the past few years.

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  24. Louisa Edwards
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:06:44

    Thank you for the roundup, Jane, and for refuting some of Sara Nelson’s arguments, which have been picking at my brain all morning. You’ve definitely inspired me to link to sources other than Amazon on my website!

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  25. Kathryn Smith
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:17:11

    Maybe Amazon could work on deranking hate literature as well? Then all those anti-homosexual, anti-lesbian (basically all anti-sexuality that’s not hetro) books would lose their rankings as well.

    But if they can derank based on ‘adult’ content, then they can do the same to any content they deem inappropriate. Come on Amazon, you sell books, not morality.

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  26. JenD
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:31:10

    I agree that Amazon’s ‘explanation’ doesn’t sit well. My BS meter is still sending out warning bells.

    I’m not comfortable shopping at an online retailer that feels the need to ‘protect’ me from things I am trying to find.

    I can understand Amazon wanting to keep children from looking at some of the racy stuff. My problem is that if you’re going to do it for one- then do it for ALL. Yet, then you get into the territory of ‘everything is offensive to someone somewhere’.

    Where is that line? Is a book with rape fine but a book where two men find love ‘bad’? Seeing Playboy allowed while books about female empowerment de-ranked was what sent me over the top.

    If you’re going to have a ‘ZOMG Save the Children!’ policy- then for frak’s sake, have it make sense.

    I’m still waiting for an apology, and until I get one- I’ll be buying my monthly 25-50 books elsewhere.

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  27. GrowlyCub
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:35:57

    Delia,

    it may seem silly to you, but guess what, there are no bookstores within 50 miles of where I live, be they chain or indie.

    And when we had a remainder type/used bookstore in town they very much refused to order items, one reason they went out of business.

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  28. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:39:54

    @Delia

    I feel I should mention, with regards to independent stores, that if you don't ask for them to stock a specific type of item, they likely won't get it. But if you do? I've never had an indie tell me “No, we aren't going to buy that for you.”

    Of course they’re not going to refuse– not if they want to make money at any rate. But it doesn’t stop many indie booksellers– and some big box booksellers as well– from making the customer feel bad or ashamed for what they’re purchasing. We’ve all heard the stories of how teenaged boys behind the register at a big box will snicker or how the snooty lit grad working at the indie bookstore will sneer when asked about romance or YA or whatever genre they’re sneering at that week. It’s what led to amazon’s stranglehold– you could order what you wanted without having to deal with any kind of middleman and bonus! you could order wearing your pajamas and have the books delivered. Add to that their one-stop shopping emporium approach and they just made it way too easy. Me? I’ve never had a problem browsing whatever shelves I wanted, asking for whatever book I wanted, or buying whatever book I wanted, but a lot of people do.

    @Nora

    Shameless plug for my husband's indie: Come sign at Turn The Page! The staff knows how to treat authors, and customers.

    Next book, I’ll definitely take you up on that! *g*

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  29. Jaci Burton
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:41:21

    Amazon’s explanation as listed on PW today seems to be full of contradictions. First they say a flag got mistakenly flipped over to ‘adult’, and then they say” Amazon.com believes it is censorship not to sell certain titles because we believe their message is objectionable. Therefore, we’ll continue to make controversial works available in the United States and everywhere else, except where they’re prohibited by law.” . Okay, so if they’re all gung ho over no restrictions, what’s the ‘adult’ flag for?

    My sales rankings for my erotic books have reappeared, yet I’m not placated and I’m not comfortable and I’m still not happy. And I’m a big Amazon user and I still don’t know what I’m going to do about that.

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  30. jmc
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:48:44

    @Delia: I think your experience with independents or with your library is not necessarily representative of everyone else’s experiences. The independent near me does not stock much genre fiction, but will order books upon request. And when I have requested them in the past, the clerks taking my requests have sneered at the titles and then (when they didn’t realize I was still in hearing distance) mocked the particular books and the genre as a whole, and me as a reader. This wasn’t a single, isolated instance, either. Why should I patronize a business that does not respect me as a customer? Which leaves me with Borders, B&N, or online buying.

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  31. Larissa Ione
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:53:12

    Okay, this is interesting. Just got it in my Publisher’s Lunch:

    A Seattle PI business reporter blogs about the cause of the error, based on a conversation with an “Amazon employee who works closely with the systems involved in the glitch.”

    The source indicates that “Amazon managers found that an employee who happened to work in France had filled out a field incorrectly and more than 50,000 items got flipped over to be flagged as ‘adult.’ (Technically, the flag for adult content was flipped from ‘false’ to ‘true.’)” The source adds, “It’s no big policy change, just some field that’s been around forever filled out incorrectly.” Similar versions of this explanation, less formally sourced, were posted on the internet prior to the PI’s blog.

    If accurate, it also confirms the suspicion that Amazon does indeed have some kind of policy to restrict the listing visibility of an unquantified number of titles considered to contain “adult” content–which would explain the original customer service e-mail posted on the Internet over the weekend. Only time will tell whether the company will acknowledge that policy, how it is implemented, and how many books it covers.

    So…a policy, just like people who got original emails were told? I’d seen the French thing, but hadn’t seen it given any kind of legitimacy. Still trying to find the PI article…

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  32. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:53:54

    What I find odd about all of this is that Amazon’s search functions have been screwing up for months now. This is simply the last and biggest straw. Seriously, I’ve been having difficulty getting their database to show me paperback versions of various types of romances, even used ones. Ones I knew had paperback versions. Their search engine has also been locking up on many searches. Something has been wrong for months. Maybe upgrades gone wrong. Maybe integrations that weren’t working. Who knows.

    So, I could easily believe there was a massive system failure coupled with a breakdown of communications about what actually happened across several continents.

    What I find difficult to believe are the emails targeting specific categories of books as explanations. Those cannot be explained away by a system failure within the databases that might’ve been tweaked and untweaked by one two many hands at the wrong times.

    Those were from people. Who either were saying what they thought they were supposed to say or should’ve know better than to say anything at all.

    Either way, those emails have to be explained and as far as I can see they have not been by any “ham-fisted” programming excuses.

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  33. Jane
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 09:56:27

    @Larissa Ione Someone else on twitter noted that if it was so easy to fill out the flag from false to true, why isn’t it equally as easy to flip it back?

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  34. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:05:57

    @Jane 33

    I used to write sql queries for a liviing. I am assuming they are using some sort of relational database. The problem may be this:

    There were 50000 entries. Say %10 of those entries, or 5000, had already been set to adult. The programmer runs his query to set all 50000 to adult based on the meta-data tags of sexuality, GBLT, etc. To back that out easily, you can set all 50000 not to be adult, but then your 5000 that were originally adult before the erroneous update would be not adult.

    In techo-speak, their database design is not sufficiently granular, and their roll-back capabilities truly suck.

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  35. Amazon Alert - De-Ranking some erotic romance « Tour’s Books Blog
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:09:00

    [...] Author has an insightful summary of this whole Amazon fiasco.  You can read it here.  It says all that’s been eating at me since getting two form letters from Amazon in [...]

  36. Portia Da Costa
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:16:08

    Totally agree, Larissa, if a switch was flipped to adult and that caused all the losses of sales rankings and ‘disappearing’, it does seem to indicate that there *is* a discriminatory policy in respect of ‘adult’ fiction.

    And ‘adult’ doesn’t always automatically mean ‘undesirable and needs to be hidden’ anyway, surely?

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  37. GrowlyCub
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:24:34

    Elaine,

    I can see that, but this is a huge company. Their IT department must be aware of how errors like this can cause major issues, one would assume they have backups.

    I don’t buy that they don’t have them, sorry.

    Or let me rephrase that, if they do not have backups, I sure don’t want them to have any sensitive information of mine because that would show them as totally and utterly incompetent.

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  38. Nialla
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:29:44

    Delia: “The excuse that no one within a fifty mile radius will stock things you want is a little silly to me.”

    Yes, I can drive a half-hour to a bookstore, find they don’t have it, get them to order it, drive back to get it when it comes in, and end up wasting a lot of time and money doing so. Might call ahead to save a couple of steps. But will they stock similar books in the future? If a customer is a regular, probably, but for the casual browsers, if it’s not on the shelf, they’re not going to wait for an order to arrive, they’re going elsewhere. Not all that different than Amazon — if you can’t find it, you don’t buy it.

    The closest indie bookstore for me is over an hour away, with quite a bit of that in heavy traffic. I’ll have someone mail me my books, thanks bunches. Might not be Amazon, but I won’t be making special trips to get the books I want. Too wasteful.

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  39. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:36:23

    GrowlyCub @37

    Or let me rephrase that, if they do not have backups, I sure don't want them to have any sensitive information of mine because that would show them as totally and utterly incompetent.

    That’s why I suspect their database design is not sufficiently granular. And having worked in IT, some of the most rapidly growing corporations have the worst infrastructure because everything has to be done on an ad hoc basis due to time constraints.

    It is very difficult to design a backout strategy for large applications, especially when you have to do ad hocs against the database occasionally. This is why the company for which I worked, a large telecommunications company, didn’t allow any implementations mid-November through mid-January: couldn’t risk ANY downtime during the holiday shopping season.

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  40. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:41:31

    It’s been so long since I logged onto Amazon or had to register for an account that I need a refresher on something. Do they even use the capability to distinguish between adult and child in their log-ins to begin with?

    I mean if their talking about distinguishing adult content from non-adult content and then don’t restrict log-ins, what in the world is the point?

    They’re going to pick and choose for everyone?

    Think about that.

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  41. vashtan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:42:38

    @BevBB: Their Terms of Service state you have to be 18 anyway.

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  42. Elizabeth
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:46:27

    FYI. Your “Smart Bitches” link takes you to a porn site, not the “Smart Bitches Trashy Books” site.

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  43. Heather Massey
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 10:56:04

    Thanks for all the updates, Jane!

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  44. Helen Burgess
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:00:04

    Today I cancelled 17 book orders with Amazon, the total worth of which was probally £140 (Sterling). It might be pain geting those books elsewhere but while authors and books I read are de-ranked and lots still are at .uk I will take my money elsewhere and not go back.

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  45. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:23:12

    @vashtan: Yeah, I was thinking that was so, but even if you have to be 18 to buy, supposedly, that doesn’t mean for browsing. Searching. Whatever.

    So the point of labeling things adult is what exactly?

    Besides screwing up their database, I mean.

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  46. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:23:12

    @vashtan: Yeah, I was thinking that was so, but even if you have to be 18 to buy, supposedly, that doesn’t mean for browsing. Searching. Whatever.

    So the point of labeling things adult is what exactly?

    Besides screwing up their database, I mean.

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  47. ReacherFan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:30:38

    There is no greater power than the power to control of the flow of information and ideas. That includes search engines at specific websites. If there is a default filter – TELL ME, give me the chance to turn it off. I can’t walk around like I can in a real bricks and mortar store. All I can do is wonder why I can’t find things, wonder what the hell happened, and get angry and frustrated.

    The form responses from Amazon caused the BS-meter to go ding*ding*ding – the big lie of the month has new contender! There isn’t much I can do about Amazon except move my buying elsewhere. There are no indie bookstores around me. They were all driven out by the chains and the high cost of doing business. I do buy from a couple of specialized mystery stores online, but I have to have a title and author to shop those places, they aren’t designed for browsing electronically. (The Poisoned Pen and Mystery Lovers Bookshop) Today I bought from Barnes and Nobel. I’ll look at IndieBound. I already use Alibris and buy direct from several publishers.

    What frightens me about all this, is just how much power a single company has amassed. That is just so disturbing on so many levels. There is no greater power than the written word. It contains ideas that have birthed nations and toppled governments. To allow one company so much control is truly frightening. Even worse, there is no easy solution to this. It goes way past issues with ‘adult content’ and speaks to the inherent ability to censor information, ANY information, just by placing it in a certain metafile class and then filtering that class.

    Each time something like this happens, once the furor dies down, we find find a little ground of freedom has been surrendered, nibbled away a bite at a time. Now that’s scary!

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  48. Nonny
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:26:26

    My husband works in tech, and major errors are not always that easy to fix. Amazon hasn’t given specific details of the error. I suspect it’s a much bigger deal than simply switching true/false and back again, otherwise it’d be fixed by now.

    It’s entirely possible they’re having to go through everything manually, since some 58,000 books were affected. If that’s the case… oy, I feel sorry for their techs.

    What bothers me the most is the attitude that it’s “just a minor error.” Uh. No, it’s not. It really is NOT.

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  49. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:38:47

    To repeat myself – I for one can get ANY GLBT book I want on Amazon.com on any page with or without ranking, by simply putting in author or title and forget about any ‘keywords’ or labels and tags, that's just too complex and their system might come up with rubbish – so what’s the problem here? Author > title, voila. Simple.

    And why on Earth should these books ‘not' be categorised ‘adult’? THEY ARE, get real – Anything with even the slightest sex in it gay or otherwise IS ADULT and has nothing to do with ‘censorship', but the majority of customers NOT buying them and have to be classified somehow. Why should they be exempt suddenly? Why do you think to warrant ratings exemption and be included in ‘mainstream' publications, when it's NOT mainstream? Sex in the eye of the ‘public majority' IS ADULT and the GLBT scene is even smaller than any other ‘romantic' genre classified as ‘adult' just the same, in contrast to any other customer community and these books aren’t invisible suddenly. I haven’t seen any of them having ‘disappeared’. None whatsoever. Author > title, voila. Simple.

    And why so adamant to reject their ‘apologies' or possible tech issues explanations? Amazon would be really daft to have done this ‘deliberately' and discriminate against the GLBT community suddenly. Look at the backlash of these dedicated blogs alone, they'd lose a few customers, sure, but GLBT is NOT the majority of their customers in any form. All this great effort to ‘expose' Amazon's ‘dirty tricks' is very important, and I boycott anything possible anti-gay this or that, but as long as Amazon haven’t actually been ‘proven' of having ‘removed’ or de-ranked any of them, I’m not going to include them on my boycott list. Show me proof – and THEN I’ll block them.

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  50. AQ
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:40:54

    Growlycub It wouldn’t be a backup strategy. You’d never do a restore in a scenario like this one because the data in the database is correct and accurate.

    Watching the incremental nature of the data refresh. First, some books started to appear on the main page, then a few authors, then more books and until finally the rankings started to reappear with different results from site to site. I’d say this was a re-indexing problem. Re-indexing is a time and computer processor intensive process and this a cloud environment where the data would need to be forced out to other members of the cloud.

    So the longer the original filter was in place, the more data that originally got changed and the longer it would take for all changes to be reversed.

    That’s my best guess based on my observation of the data refresh.

    Jane, even if I remove the CSR rep’s response from the equation, I know that they were filtering prior to this because I did notice that some books didn’t have a rank. I didn’t think much of it because it’s something I noticed in passing and there weren’t enough of them on any given day for to notice a pattern. But the fact remains that the filtering did exist prior to this weekend and that IF it really was something like an accidental switch flip, then the coding had already been approved and tested for use because it hit very specific areas the ranking system and the all departments search function. That means that the background coding had already gone through official change control and if someone simply flipped the switch then the categories in that filter had already been approved at least for inclusive. Again assuming that it was a flag switch.

    Yes, that’s armchair quarterbacking but after the Amazon website outage a couple of years back, I just can’t imagine that Amazon doesn’t have very strigent change control procedures in place.

    Just sayin’

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  51. Kathleen O'Reilly
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:44:48

    I would actually be surprised if Amazon doesn’t do some big PR gesture when this problem is fully resolved. They are very proud of their reputation as a progressive company, and have to be painfully aware of the damage this has done. One of the big differences between Amazon and Walmart is where Walmart is the monarchy, Amazon is the borg. Their collective customer base and it’s data is what makes the company. Amazon offers the entire universe and uses customers feedback and data to provide its customers a filter and fine-tune their selection, but what Elaine said is very true. Especially if the database isn’t hard-coded from the beginning (they never are, they are living, breathing, ugly organisms). Fields are added, used once, hijacked, and then jerrymandered for some convenient purpose. Even if a human flicked a switched, it could be the “USE_ADDRESSES_IN_US_ONLY” boolean, but the database is using it for “CUSTOMER_WHO_LAST_BOUGHT_CHRISTIAN_MATERIALS_AND_DOESNT_WANT_R_MOVIES” tag. If you look at some of the variables in the original DOS code, they’re a riot. Seriously, that wasn’t even sarcasm. :)

    I’m actually not surprised that Amazon has an adult tag somewhere, but I would imagine it’s used for what the legal system considers pornographic content, if only for liability purposes. I think Amazon has tags for everything.

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  52. Sela Carsen
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:45:35

    I’ve always been uncomfortable ordering from Amazon, to be honest. I’m not crazy about the whole corporate monolith thing. When I order books online, Powell’s is frequently my retailer of choice. Not to mention, walking around their store in Portland is a lot like what I imagine heaven will be like. I mean, it’s a whole city block and at least three floors.

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  53. Rosa
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 12:57:19

    Since I grew up in a town that now has no bookstore, and where people routinely defaced books they didn’t like at the public library (gay, lesbian, sexuality, and nonChristian religious titles, mostly) – online bookbuying is a huge resource for people. Even just looking up topics and knowing the books exist out there, somewhere, even if you can’t buy them for whatever reason.

    But at the same time, for those of us who live where there *are* indy bookstores, or small regional chains – I put up with a lot of snotty treatment for years, just because I was grateful there *was* a bookstore, and lately I’ve been complaining to management when I run into it. It seems to be helping (though there’s nothing you can do about the volunteer labor at the library bookstore, unfortunately.)

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  54. snarkhunter
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:12:03

    OMG Barb Ferrar lived in Hudson?! *fangirls*

    (Um…yeah, even though I moved to Hudson against my will, The Learned Owl was a bright spot for me.)

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  55. Charlotte Stein
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:15:24

    “If the changes from .com are not replicating to .uk, what does that say about the French stealth-assassin theory?”

    I think it’s doo-hickey. This whole thing was quite obviously an “experiment” to see how it would go down. It did not go down well- now they’re backtracking.

    However, I don’t think whoever’s behind this had as malicious an intent as it’s looked like. It’s one of those boneheaded management decisions that on paper sounds good, and is then implemented without any thought towards the true ramifications. They thought only of their customers who didn’t want to see “objectionable” material being satisfied, and completely overlooked how this would anger and effect the writers and the GLBT community.

    I know other big corporations that do the exact same stupid stuff without thinking through everything that will happen because of it (like an erotica bestselling list with two titles on it).

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  56. jmc
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:26:14

    Deleted by author. Realized I was potentially feeding a troll. My apologies.

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  57. D
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:28:14

    I have been watching and reading all of this with much interest. Like the majority of you I don’t like the idea of censorship in any form, and am appalled that even the appearance of censorship could occur on this scale in this day and age.

    But, Amazon has always used tags. How else to code their stock so that what you are looking for comes up. If I am searching for “red shoes”, there has to be some way in which Amazon can filter out the items that don’t fit my search. Hence the use of tags – and the “adult content” flag in particular.

    That someone, somewhere in the vast universe that is Amazon hit the wrong switch is believable to me. It is also very believable that correcting the error is not as simple as reversing the switch. Most programming (at least the programming I am familiar with) is very linear. You must go from A to B to C to D and if you find when you get to D that there is an error in B you must correct by going from D to C to B. If you skip from D to B, you are generally screwed and the error expands. Reversing the programming especially on this scale is an enormous task and will take time and much effort on Amazon’s part.

    I am not in any way saying that Amazon was not at fault here, and I think their intitial handling of the error was very, very bad. I think though that before we go storming their gates with our pitchforks and flaming arrows, we should all take a breath and give them an opportunity to correct the error and give a proper explaination before we decide that they are the enemy of all that is good and proper and righteous in the world.

    Just for the record here (in case someone thinks that I am championing Amazon for any purpose related to employment or otherwise), I am not normally an Amazon customer. I happen to live out in the middle of nowhere, with no bookstores (indie or otherwise), Wal-Mart, Target or any other book outlet within a hundred mile radius of me so I buy almost all of my books online, and most of those ebooks. But I don’t like the Kindle and I don’t like that Amazon limits ebooks to Kindle use, therefore the vast majority of my book purchases come from other sources. I do on occassion purchase other items from Amazon, but they are far from being a major source of retail to me.

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  58. AQ
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:37:30

    Demoy

    To repeat myself – I for one can get ANY GLBT book I want on Amazon.com on any page with or without ranking

    Umm, no you couldn’t during Amazon’s fubar. Not without purposefully changing your filter to specifically search for books. Jane has documented proof of this. If all the books an author had listed in the Amazon database fulfilled the filter criteria then as far as the main amazon page was concerned that author didn’t exist.

    And why on Earth should these books ‘not' be categorised ‘adult'?

    Because they relied on subjective subject categories that were not consistently applied to individual titles let alone actual content of the title.

    If you want an adult content filter then it’s truly a massive undertaking.

    What criteria would you propose for an adult filter, DeMoy? What levels of violence, sexuality, profanity would the book need to have? Who will read these individuals books to make the determination of whether or not they meet the criteria? Will there be an appeal process? If I write an abridged version can one version of the title be adult the other just regular?

    Will your filter include fantasy books like George R. R. Martins A Games of Thrones? How about a sci/fi adventure like Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Real Story? What about the other subject matter like dog fighting? What about books that contain characters who smoke? After all, smoking is illegal for minors so shouldn’t that be classified as adult. Or any book that mentions illicit drugs or crime?

    Where’s your line?

    And what happens when the next filter someone wants to put in place is for political commentary or corporate criticism? Or the next thing?

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  59. ReacherFan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:43:58

    I thought you might be interested in what the NYT said and also what PC World is saying about ‘weev’ and his claims.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/04/14/did-weev-play-a-role-in-amazon-error/

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/163024/hacker_claims_credit_for_amazons_gaythemed_book_glitch.html

    Curious.

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  60. AQ
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:44:22

    Sorry, I know I fed the troll but I’m afraid all the wonderful arguments Jane made will die and fade away. There are still so many questions which need to be answered.

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  61. Kate Pearce
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:53:05

    Thank you for a really interesting take on this situation. It made a lot of sense. I noticed my amazon ranking numbers are back today for my Aphrodisia’s but I’m still not happy with amazon.

    And re independent bookstores. The 3 local ones near me all declined to stock my books, have me sign, or even take bookmarks from me because apparently in my area ‘people just don’t read those kind of books.” Ah. And this is Northern California people.

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  62. MichelleR
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 13:57:38

    They sent me the form letter…again. My second email to them mentioned feeling unheard, so receiving the form letter again…yeah! It was pretty much the worst thing they could have done, since the whole second email was requesting specific answers.

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  63. Mary Winter
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:06:45

    Very interesting article.

    There is much discussion over the seller DSRs at ebay for much the same reason. It’s hidden information. Sellers never know which buyers left the DSRs so they can’t rectify bad situations (or go after buyers who leave the bad DRSs, but that’s another situation), and it appears that ebay adjusts the DSRs right before they use them to determine a selling discount, if any. DSR points have been known to drop up to half a place (4.7 to 4.2) if it gets ebay more money.

    Funny how ebay has always been trying to be like Amazon. Now Amazon is trying to be like ebay.

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  64. Elaine
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:13:57

    @59 Kate:

    People don’t read those kinds of books because of judgmental sellers, and would prefer to get them via mail order, except Amazon doesn’t want to list them. You’re suffering from a temendous double bind, and I am flummoxed that people don’t realize this is a bread and butter issue for authors. And there isn’t much butter on the bread.

    One change I will make as a reader is to stop using Amazon as as a database, and try to confine my searches to the Internet as a whole.

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  65. Elf
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:15:51

    @DeMoy
    Also, please note that one of the (un?)intended? results of the “filter” was to remove the products from general searches for topics. Say you want to learn about homosexuality. Zing! Your first choice, and the next several, are books about how to turn your queer into a hetero (or at least, a celibate, self-denying “hetero with homo tendencies that we won’t talk about”).

    Now, say you’re wanting to purchase something like that neat GLBTQ book you bought earlier… whoops! No ranking means no recommendations.
    Just little things like that. I mean hey! Just because your reading taste runs to GLBTQ instead of het, what does it matter if you have to jump through more hoops, right? GLBTQ is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice.

    FYI – it’s not obscene to be gay, to read about gay people’s lives, or to read about how homosexuality has evolved/been treated over time. Sorry, but it’s not. Just like het erotica should be treated like GLBTQ erotica – it’s all people f**ing, right?

    And last but not least, Amazon requires you to be 18+ to be able to shop. I think we’re all asking to be treated like adults, to make our own choices about whether we need a filter or not, and barring all the above, for the “adult” category to make sense in a rational way, not a bigoted way. Finding dog-fighting and bare titties still ranked when a book about two penguin daddies is the spawn of all that is “adult evil” is incredibly stupid.

    Walking away slowly… lol

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  66. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:20:34

    @AQ: I never said ‘I’ want any ‘filter’ – I only stated that this is how the site functions and the majority of customers see these books as adult and that they need some sort of category to start with, and don’t warrent exemption from the adult tag just because YOU want it that way. Sex is adult. Fact. If I want a book I couldn’t care less about any warnings or ‘adult’ content’ label stuck to them by any site, when other books don't have any even though they should have (too) in the public eye.

    But I'm not the site’s label manager who designed it that way, or condone ANY censorship in any form btw, and would just list the lot alphabetically no matter the genre. But that's just me and doesn't work with the public majority moaning about any ‘adult' content mixed with kids books or gardening, so it simply has to be in some sort of category. But I still can get what I want by just typing in the right author and/or title. It’s that easy. Besides, when I joined this discussion there was NO problem of finding any GLBT books again I saw before. Fact.

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  67. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:25:28

    @snarkhunter:

    OMG Barb Ferrar lived in Hudson?! *fangirls*

    Heh– yep. Middleton Road, baby! I really loved living in Hudson and miss it, to this day. (Trust me, when you wind up living somewhere like Jacksonville, Hudson starts looking like Nirvana.)

    But I paid my little homage to Hudson by recreating it as Hampshire, the town Caroline is from in Accent.

    And seriously, anyone who finds themselves in the NE Ohio vicinity, try to stop by Learned Owl– they’re lovely folks in there.

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  68. Mike Cane
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:31:08

    #amazonfail
    http://ebooktest.blogspot.com/2009/04/amazonfail.html

    They get zero benefit of the doubt from me.

    It’s Tuesday. It doesn’t take THIS long to issue a formal policy statement, even if they started drafting one 9AM *yesterday*.

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  69. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:33:25

    @Elf: Look at post #64 – Again, if I want any book pro or contra gay e.g. other than simply use author or title and rather use ‘keywords’, I just file through what’s on offer to find it and really don’t care if they have any ratings or not, since I want to make up my own mind and could be the complete opposite. A ‘recommendation’ to me means nothing much, likewise no ranking does not prevent me from trying/buying the chosen book. I can’t be nannied that way and never look at them, but the synopsis/content.

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  70. Lori
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:39:05

    Unfortunately, during Amazon fail, it was not as easy as typing in a name and finding what you want. That’s the entire point people are trying to make. I went and typed in Lucinda Betts and nothing came up. I had to go to specific search in books to get one title and then from that find others.

    Your fact is not the fact for everyone DeMoy.

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  71. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 14:53:10

    @Elf: And in addition, in case you believe I’m anti-gay – I write gay fiction since decades and have gay friends even though I’m not, but sure as hell am for the equality of all ‘orientations’ as stated before. Just to make myself clear here, only because I counter-argue this ‘#Amazonfail’ at my own experiences and can find what I want, which was the same as before and nothing is missing. And as I said, I don’t care if anything is ranked – I buy what I want with or without to make up my own mind. Maybe more people should think that way and not depend on others’ comments of what ‘they’ thought of it. Think about it.

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  72. BevBB
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:02:28

    Of what use is a massive searchable database where one has to know exactly what one is looking for before one looks it up?

    If I knew the title and author of every book I concievably wanted to buy before I bought them, I certainly wouldn’t have needed Amazon all these years.

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  73. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:03:00

    @Lori: As I said before – when ‘I’ looked up all these mentioned authors plus my own just to make sure, they DID come up. So don’t just judge after your own failed attempts coming up with nothing ‘then’, only. That ‘point’ seems to have been passed when I joined and I could find them just fine, so that’s ‘fact’ to me. ALL of it came up. If Amazon have done this deliberately is the issue – NOT that ‘I’ could find them ‘again’ ‘suddenly’ – which we still don’t know exactly they had.

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  74. Sela Carsen
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:11:25

    But what if you’re searching by subject? It’s been done to death, but if you type “homosexuality” into the search engine on Amazon’s front page, you get a bunch of anti-gay literature, rather than the rich diversity of books that are — or should be — actually available to the Amazon customer. In point of fact, that is still the case as I type. I just checked.

    Not everyone goes to Amazon with a specific title or author in mind. Yes, many titles and authors could be found if you searched hard enough and knew exactly what to type. But if you’re just searching? They were gone.

    That’s a problem. That’s what we’re addressing here.

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  75. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:16:59

    @BevBB: You could argue that with Amazon – or just go somewhere else if the searching through their databanks brings up zilch. I could find what I wanted so far and not only GLBT books, since many authors offer them on their own websites to buy there as well even signed, and if not either way, there I go exactly somewhere else till I get it. Even ebay which couldn’t care less about censorship/adult content, with the given sellers having paid the author already. So no loss there. Just a thought.

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  76. Tasha
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:21:24

    Here’s my problem with it:

    The “deranked” items are being re-ranked, seemingly in order of outrage exhibited for the title in question.

    If this were truly a “glitch,” then there should have been a solution for all affected titles, more or less at the same time.

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  77. vashtan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:26:08

    @Tasha:

    I *am* wondering if they use our list at meta_writer. It’s been linked extensively across the internet. But Erastes’ Transgressions hasn’t been re-ranked/re-listed yet, and that was fairly far up the list.

    Looks like they have to do it manually. Some poor keyboard slaves will likely spend the night doing that.

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  78. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:36:28

    @Sela Carsen: I know, I did the same. But I’m afraid that’s simply a reflection of their sales of that particular book – however sad that is for the GLBT community I support greatly. So in that case it seems you either have to file through their hundreds of pages, or try to get a better title/author together (even by recomendation from friends e.g.).

    I have the time to do file through the mire, unlike most no doubt and can see their dilemma – So either argue that with Amazon or simply go somewhere else. But books isn’t the only stuff they sell and it takes some sort of search criteria ‘system’ to start with. As I said. I’d simply list the (book) lot alphabetically to make it easier for ‘us’ – but if you search a ‘category’ or by ‘keyword’ rather than by author/title you don’t know or can’t remember, then that’s even more complicated and the ‘general’ public would cry even more about ‘adult content’ mixing with kids books e.g. than they do already. It’s a mega listing problem.

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  79. Tasha
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:50:32

    @vashtan: Hence my statement that this wasn’t a “glitch.” If they’re going through these titles manually, that means they’re still deciding which stay and which go – which is not a “glitch,” it’s a policy.

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  80. Dusk Peterson
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 15:52:35

    In all fairness to Amazon, I should mention that last year I asked customer support for help in correcting the formatting for the blurb of this Kindle book of mine (cover not worksafe), and they didn’t blink an eye. But I do agree that we need to keep vigilant about this because the general trend of many big businesses is to (1) make as much money as they can on erotic material and (2) pretend that they don’t carry the erotic material.

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  81. Rosechimera
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:00:20

    This is the perfect summation of this debacle. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!

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  82. AQ
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:13:23

    79@ Tasha

    I don’t believe they are going through the titles manually. That would take a lot of people many days to manually re-flag what a program script could do in seconds or what could be accomplished by removing categories from a filter.

    However, if the data change needed to be pushed out to the system at large and a forced index rebuild also needed to happen, it could be a few days before consumers see all the refreshed data. And we don’t know when they flipped their ‘switch’ back.

    So a little patience on that particular aspect. Not a lot though. I’d keeping tracking it. If it doesn’t appear in the next day or so then we go back with more tracked data and ask Amazon to explain once again.

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  83. vashtan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:17:19

    @Tasha:

    Yes, we continue to gather de-listed/de-ranked books at meta_writer and check back in a week. We’ll give them a little time, then we’ll write to the press again for #amazonfail 2.0.

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  84. teXtes » Blog Archive » Ne me twitte pas…
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:24:43

    [...] Twitter n’existait pas. Le temps où Amazon aurait pu faire une malencontreuse erreur (#glitchmyass ?) qui sorte brutalement de son classement tous les livres GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, [...]

  85. DeMoy
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:24:48

    All Amazon is interested in is to sell – anything, until the public actually forces them to remove certain items (like the Nazi t-shirts some time ago). So they’d be pretty dumb to remove or de-rank a certain very popular if not major category of books deliberately just because something went wrong down the ranking line for some or were ‘missing’ as some stated, since this didn’t affect GBLT books only, let’s not forget that fact. As I said, when I looked on coming across this issue, they were all there.

    Anyway, I’m done with this for now to follow post #81 and will return to my own gay fiction writing, which I would also self-publish at any rate, and don’t really ‘need’ Amazon for that. Meaning, I won’t endulge any further comments on my previous posts – ain’t got the time anymore. Take care everyone and happy reading/writing. Just give them time to sort out their mess fully – gods know what ‘really’ happened.

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  86. Sylvia L.
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:35:14

    30 minutes ago I did my first book order NOT from amazon in some years. And guess what? It’s just as easy, inexpensive and with free shipping.
    Yay! for spreading the love of books (and money).

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  87. Sylvia L.
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:46:41

    @Helen Burgess:
    I’m in Europe too and http://www.play.com or http://www.dvd.co.uk have usually great deals and handling the sites is a childs play.

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  88. JenD
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 16:55:06

    This whole thing is still making my teeth grind. *sigh*

    I’m not a programmer/IT head so I’ll leave that to those smarter than I. What bothers me is the line of what is ‘adult’ and what isn’t. To me the ‘Think Of The Children!’ cry is getting old and quite frankly pissing me off. It’s been used as a rallying ‘bullshit’ cry for so long now that it has lost it’s impact.

    I’d rather have my kids know that gay people have sex than to see books on how to train your dog to kill. Violence is fine but sex is the Danger That Will Destroy Youth Forever? It just doesn’t add up for me and probably never will.

    I don’t mind having an adult filter- I understand that some people don’t use simple web nanny software and then let their children on whatever website they want to go to. So the rest of us have to buck up and pick up the slack. Fine. Just let me *know* that I’m operating within a filter and give me the choice to opt out of it. For me the whole debate pushes the button of Everyone In America Has Children And Is Offended By The Same Things. Simply not true.

    From a PR standpoint Amazon’s response was something I would have expected from a Dollar General store- not the biggest internet commerce site. Whoever is in charge of PR- oy- I don’t want to be them right now. A lot of this mess could have been dealt with by a simple ‘We don’t know what happened, we’re sorry that this looks like we’re bigots because we’re not and we are working quickly to fix it’. Instead we get Teh Glitch.

    ReplyReply

  89. DeeCee
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 18:55:09

    by BevBB:

    What I find odd about all of this is that Amazon's search functions have been screwing up for months now. This is simply the last and biggest straw. Seriously, I've been having difficulty getting their database to show me paperback versions of various types of romances, even used ones. Ones I knew had paperback versions. Their search engine has also been locking up on many searches. Something has been wrong for months. Maybe upgrades gone wrong. Maybe integrations that weren't working. Who knows.

    Ditto. It used to be a few years back, I’d type in a name and get exactly what I typed. Now if I were to type that same name in I get over 10,000 results for an author that’s written 12 books. ARGH! Editions never came up right, and pages loaded differently…shopping on Amazon is different now. I can’t find what I want anymore without scrolling down for what seems like forever and wading through hundreds or thousands of worthless results.

    I for one am not going to support Amazon through this PR nightmare. They lost all of my book business when they stopped offering the books I wanted from small press publishers. The only damn thing I buy from them is mp3′s.

    As for them choosing what is adult content…they can bite me. I chose my own definition of “adult”. Does it mean I have to be over 18 to buy it? Or that it has sex in it? Or that it had homosexuality in it? Or that it has people in a loving relationship depicted? Or that its a memoir about a person’s life that stripped or hooked or did drugs? It’s all subjective, and I resent the fact that they can flip a switch and wipe out an entire section of their catalog.

    ReplyReply

  90. Indiebound « Groop
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 19:05:51

    [...] affiliate service, but I was loathe to continue to support Amazon, particularly in light of their recent activities. I’m pleased that there is now a really solid alternative, and I hope that any visitors to [...]

  91. Julia Sullivan
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 20:23:00

    As for them choosing what is adult content…

    The computer error spotlighted a bizarre set of policy decisions on Amazon's part, and/or successful gaming of the system by large mainstream publishers to the detriment of small publishers.

    If (het porn stars) Ron Jeremy's and Jenna Jameson's very graphic and detailed autobiographies aren't flagged, in the metadata, as eligible for the “adult” category, whereas a scholarly biography of Ellen DeGeneres is, then either the publishers are gaming the system or straight sexuality is being filtered less rigorously than queer sexuality.

    If how-to books about sex by disability advocates are flagged as “adult”, but more explicit how-to books about sex for a more general audience aren't flagged as “adult”, either the publishers of the latter are gaming the system or books about disability and sexuality are being filtered more rigorously than books about sexuality for able-bodied people.

    So even if the rank-stripping, listing-blocking thing was a programmer's mistake, the impact of the “glitch” spotlights some potentially disturbing approaches to classification.

    ReplyReply

  92. On the Resolution of #Amazonfail « The Ink Spectrum
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 20:55:18

    [...] one: This post at Dear Author goes in-depth into the market share thing. Possibly related posts: (automatically [...]

  93. Penny C Sansevieri
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 21:06:20

    This is such a great analysis. The point that I felt Sara Nelson missed was this: Amazon’s deranked wasn’t a shop owner deciding not to sell a book – it was a 10,000 pound gorilla pushing titles off the radar and affecting an author’s success. Most authors live and die by these sales ranking, in fact Amazon has always played coy with these numbers and the exact metric because they know so many people depend on them.

    I would agree that we need to do something about this – we only fear Amazon because of their lack of transparency. Are they anti-gay? I doubt it, but after the past few days and reading numerous blog posts I would say they’re anti-author and anti-customer.

    Nice mix to build your business model on.

    Twitter.com/Bookgal

    ReplyReply

  94. Gabrielle
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 21:31:23

    The “deranked” items are being re-ranked, seemingly in order of outrage exhibited for the title in question.

    If this were truly a “glitch,” then there should have been a solution for all affected titles, more or less at the same time.

    Oh, you’re making me think suddenly since the glitch, Amazon takes time to revert the situation back to normal. It’s only a matter of neutralizing the adult filters, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be simple and fast if they just need to suppress the de-ranking function for the whole site? I’m no expert and I like in fact categorizing the books to facilitate my search, I just don’t like the results being filtered. So shouldn’t it be easy for them to keep their metadata but just suppress the de-ranking system if they praise themselves for not censoring the contents of their site?

    I feel uneasy. Aren’t they aiming to fix the de-ranking for their whole products?
    Was the problem just affecting the categories of books we know of or are there other hidden filtered/de-ranked categories we haven’t heard of that Amazon has omitted to mention?
    Are they just fixing the titles which made us blow to their faces and not others that weren’t noticed? This might explain why it takes them more time to “fix” everything if they go through each product data to decide which one to re-rank to make up happy and which one they can leave as is for we aren’t aware of it. Am I too paranoid?

    ReplyReply

  95. Reading Upside Down » Blog Archive » Amazon Recovery?
    Apr 14, 2009 @ 22:27:48

    [...] statement is more spin than fact and the debate continues on Twitter (#amazonfail) and elsewhere. Jane from Dear Author,… offers an eloquent explanation of why the #amazonfail controversy is very much an ongoing [...]

  96. angelakorrati.com · More on #amazonfail
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 00:10:34

  97. CCR
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 00:45:22

    It’s true: Amazon’s search function has sucked for a long time now. Even if you type in the full title and author of a book, sometimes that is not the first result that comes up — and that was before this debacle.

    I’ve had it with Amazon. Their lack of a plausible explanation or apology after two days is unacceptable. I’ve removed all my credit card info from their site (because who can trust them to keep our data safe?) and my wish-lists, etc. If we all do this, perhaps it will send a message.

    ReplyReply

  98. Jon Rutherford
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 01:07:41

    @Sylvia L.: You know, I’ve ordered several books lately through Alibris and felt happier with that than with using Amazon, though it never occurred to me to cancel my Amazon account till this mess. (I’m still trying to get it cancelled after my first try only drew a “Please stay” from the ham-fisted megalithic company — and a link back to do it all over again on their site.)

    Now I hope I don’t learn that Alibris is evil; but there are so many alternatives to Amazon.com that I feel confident I can find whatever I want, within reason — and on pages more attractively designed than the junky ones at Amazon, which always annoyed me.

    ReplyReply

  99. Stumbling Over Chaos :: “Are you going to read just paranormals until your brain falls out?”
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 02:04:48

    [...] and to reduce, in my own tiny way, dependence on a megalithic bookseller. I got this idea from Dear Author and the Smart Bitches, whose explanations are far more eloquent than my own (yup, more fallout from [...]

  100. Lee Rowan
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 02:21:27

    @BevBB:

    Amazon’s TOS require customers to be over 18 years of age.

    There is no rational reason for them to refuse to rank any item they sell. If their age limit is 18, shouldn’t the site have some sort of flag that would trip a ‘parental control’ on a user computer?

    This system sounds as though it has discrimination built in, just waiting for instructions on what the target should be.

    I still think it’s interesting that when my books were deranked, the Kindle versions were not… so the gay romance bestseller list was mostly Kindle books that were OK in Kindle but too adult in print. That is quite an interesting ‘glitch.’

    ReplyReply

  101. Lee Rowan
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 02:24:05

    Two alternative online book sources that have been repeatedly suggested at gay blogs:

    http://www.powells.com

    and an indie store index:

    http://www.indiebound.org

    ReplyReply

  102. Links « Stuff
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 02:47:05

    [...] AmazonFail and why the explanation for it is not an explanation at all. [...]

  103. Rachel Pearce
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 03:20:11

    #99 Lee Rowan: Exactly! This is an Adult site (in the over-18 sense, not the porn sense) already. No reason for censorship at all.

    Just want to mention that althought GLBTQ literature was targetted, it was not exclusively targetted. At least in the UK, the whole category labelled as “sex” in “Health, Family & Lifestyle” were also deranked. This is non fiction and in practice meant mostly books on contraception etc. and also such subjects as sex and disability and sex for elders.

    ReplyReply

  104. G.L. Morrison
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 03:52:58

    It’s certainly inspired a lot of e-activism. I don’t think I’ve ever blogged, twittered or commented so much. I even wrote an #Amazonfail sestina: Invisible Lavender Ink. (I’m only sorry I couldn’t fit more “adult” words into it.)

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1650668/daily_poetry_challenge_amazonfail_sestina.html?cat=42

    See you all at Powell’s. Or wherever faithful bloggers (re)direct us.

    BTW As a contributor to many (erotic and/or lesbian) anthologies I had often grumbled to myself that I was invisible at Amazon since only the name on the spine is the acknowledged author. I much prefer the databases which include table of contents and contributors. I appreciate editors like Leslea Newman and Marcy Sheiner who acknowledge and promote contributors on their website. Reviews are great when they mention you by name –but if only 2-3 authors are mentioned… Do the math. Not great odds.

    Unfortunately anthologies (particularly series) go out of print quickly. It’s sites like Amazon and POWELLS that keep remainders and used book in circulation. Books that you can’t buy new off the shelf even if you know its title, author and ISBN number.

    Then all “my” books disappear and I’m like huh. Big difference between unseen in the margins and ERASED.

    ReplyReply

  105. Erastes
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 03:58:30

    Thanks for this, Jane. Excellent round up.

    ReplyReply

  106. Uldi
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 05:07:07

    I agree that with you about Amazon being a bit too big. I think too many publishers, authors, and readers rely on it for sales on the one hand (authors/publishers), and purchases on the other (readers). However, I disagree with some of your suggestions on what should be done; mainly in relation to the physical bookstores.

    I’ve worked in retail for years and there is one absolute rule for all physical retailers: Floor space is at a premium. It doesn’t matter what you sell, or how big the store is, you never have enough floor space to put out everything you have to sell. That means that everything you put on that floor has to have a good chance of selling; otherwise you’re just wasting space that you can’t afford to waste (not if you intend to actually make money).

    While it would be nice to be able to put out a large selection of every genre/author combination that exists, there just isn’t enough floor-space for it. The only real option is a willingness to order what the customer wants, either by in-store orders or web-page (and an indie bookstore might not be able afford a nice, comprehensive web-page). This is were good costumer service is important. For those that have had embarrassing or irritating experiences dealing with some indie bookstores (or even chain-stores), did any of you say anything to the owner/manager about the problem? From my personal experience, that kind of problem is not tolerated and usually results in at least a verbal warning to the offending employee (and if they’ve already been warned, often leads to a firing); indie stores in particular can’t afford offending their costumers, since they don’t have a larger corporation to fall back on if they lose sales.

    I seem to have wandered off on a tangent … my apologies. My point was that physical bookstores just can’t stock everything a potential costumer might want; it’s one of the reasons Amazon exists in the first place.

    My advice for publishers is to make it easier to order directly from them; that way you don’t have to deal with a middle-man, like Amazon or rude store employees.

    ReplyReply

  107. Mark A. Michaels
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 06:38:06

    Great post. As of this morning, the so-called glitch has not been fixed, at least not entirely. Our books turn up in a search by title, but I searched my name, and the print editions don’t show up. Also, one of our two DVDs remains unranked. Both are instructional and sexually explicit.

    The existence of this “adult” category and the lack of transparency surrounding it are the real issues. Thanks for calling attention to that fact. I hope that authors, publishers and amazon affiliates will keep the pressure on.

    ReplyReply

  108. BevBB
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 06:44:27

    @Lee Rowan:

    I still think it's interesting that when my books were deranked, the Kindle versions were not… so the gay romance bestseller list was mostly Kindle books that were OK in Kindle but too adult in print. That is quite an interesting ‘glitch.'

    Yeah, see, that’s the thing that keeps raising my eyebrows or making me frown or whatever you want to call it. And has been doing so for months now. The way the formats have been selectively offered during searches. So now it’s categories that are selective. I’m not sure that’s such a major logic jump.

    Don’t know how many times I’ve looked for a paperback version of a book there and came up ziltch–when I knew one existed…currently. Or was checking to see what versions were available and got such weird results on searches that I just gave up. I got a search result on a not released yet Christine Feehan book back in I think January or February that said it cost $69 but there wasn’t a binding listed except “special” or some such.

    Duh. What were they planning on doing? Binding all formats together?

    So, I have a difficult time believing simple glitch now. Failure, yeah. Glitch, not really.

    ReplyReply

  109. La Feuille » Archive du blog » AmazonFail
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 07:13:40

    [...] dans la catégorie contenus pour adultes et dans le ghetto de la liste des livres non classés. Jane de Dear Author souligne que le problème semble lié aux métadonnées ajoutées par Amazon et les éditeurs. Les [...]

  110. The Amazon situation « DragonKat
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 08:37:46

    [...] thought about the lack of Amazon [...]

  111. Noticias Edición Digital » Blog Archive » AmazonFail
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 08:44:45

    [...] dans la catégorie contenus pour adultes et dans le ghetto de la liste des livres non classés. Jane de Dear Author souligne que le problème semble lié aux métadonnées ajoutées par Amazon et les éditeurs. Les [...]

  112. Caitlin
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:13:24

    GLBTQ is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice.

    Oh (said the lesbian), what is this bullshit? NOTHING is “the last bastion of acceptable prejudice”. Our society is institutionally misogynistic, racist, homophobic, abilist, agist, sizeist, and many other things besides. If you seriously think ANY of these prejudices are no longer “acceptable”, you are living in a happy privileged dreamworld.

    Just because a particular prejudice doesn’t intrude on your awareness and public lynchings are (mostly, sometimes) frowned upon does not mean these prejudices have gone away. They’ve just become harder to see, except for the people who are harmed by them every day. Why do you think books about feminism, rape and disability disappeared too?

    ReplyReply

  113. Ann-Kat
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 11:29:09

    Or, one other option that seems to be overlooked, is do what the major search engines do…provide an option for the querier to include or remove adult content at her leisure.

    That ultimately would have been the smart thing for Amazon to do with its search results and ranks. Simply ask what the individual would like to see.

    ReplyReply

  114. Marie
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:00:19

    Even if this was a cataloging error . . . why were they cataloging books that have been around for a long time? Why was the new cataloging going on at all?

    There are new rumors about a “French” coder tagging books in the database, but why was he doing that?

    There is still more to the story.

    ReplyReply

  115. Barb Ferrer
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 12:01:49

    @Caitlin:

    Just because a particular prejudice doesn't intrude on your awareness and public lynchings are (mostly, sometimes) frowned upon does not mean these prejudices have gone away.

    Amen.

    And if anyone doubts this, check out this video of Susan Boyle. You’ll see a remarkable form of prejudice on full, inglorious display– right before it gets roundly kicked in the teeth.

    ReplyReply

  116. joanne
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 13:37:34

    @Barb Ferrer: Dude!

    In a week where things here in Romancelandia suck big-time, that link to the incredible Ms Boyle gave me hope! Thanks so much for reminding me that power comes in all kinds of packaging. I wish her a HUGE HEA!

    ReplyReply

  117. remittance girl
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 18:58:20

    This was a really great article. I thank you for it.

    It is an interesting irony that people who defend free market principles and defend Amazon’s right to handle its merchandise the way it likes fail to realize that the concept of a free market is exactly that – free. That means that it is consumption that dictates the market, not the seller’s morals or virtues, or even the sensitivities of some consumers. If it sells, according to a free market system, it should rank.

    Personally, I have problems with the concept of a completely unregulated market, but I save my disdain for default credit swaps. It certainly wasn’t gay erotica on Amazon that has taken down the banking system.

    Beyond this, what I find thoroughly disturbing is that anyone could actually convince themselves that seeing the cover of an erotica book is going to damage a young person’s mind.

    Good grief. What kind of cocooned, incurious, socially unarmed people are we planning on making?

    ReplyReply

  118. Andrea
    Apr 15, 2009 @ 19:45:15

    As a few others here have pointed out, it is not only GLBT books that were affected. Some disability books were affected too. More on this at:

    http://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/amazonfail-hurts-both-disability-and-glbt-communities/

    ReplyReply

  119. DeMoy
    Apr 16, 2009 @ 12:35:49

    Just to conclude this then as it seems to fizzle out by now, and to point to others not that obsessed and more clear-headedly regarding no this lesser important issue, here’s a link to another blog (which might have been posted already). But maybe it should be seriously taken into consideration with a more objective look at their ‘opinions’. I’m with most of them and was from the start, since I for one will not ever just take hearsay or high emotions, (based on one blogger's complaint) as fact till proven just that and/or found ‘guilty’, (who even said he doesn't believe it was malicious intent, nor had been proven at that point).

    And btw, Amazon HAVE given statements even on the news – it’s just that the hardcore (and I don’t mean that as a double innuendo now) community, I greatly support, simply won’t accept them. But only because they're a still unjustly ousted minority, which is still regarded as ‘outcasts' especially in the still sadly much more puritan States and of course reacted very fiercely. Why of course should any sexual orientation group call for more intelligence in general and simply stay calm till the problem has been identified and then solved. The just as adamant ‘heteros’ do the same – no difference whatsoever. Except I’m one not to fall into that trap and wait.

    And btw, according to a UK news report, only the US site had stripped GLBT books off rankings, or apparently had vamoosed some (and not only GLBT books to repeat that, since I could find them ‘again' on .com even days ago) and suddenly gay authors like Stephen Fry found themselves in the gay and adult category with their bios, unlike on the UK site under biography only incl. ranking. So in that case it's an inherent US ‘morality problem', not worldwide phenomenon according to others sites finding them just fine, and the States' legislature might have forced Amazon to de-rank certain categories suddenly while others were left untouched, which was one of Amazon's official replies to be their ‘policy' to list them as ‘adult' at one point and didn't help much, true.

    But anyway, I’m done with this issue for good now and the ‘monster’ Amazon has been shoved enough I still will shop with. Shame that it only showed how ignorant the affected group trying to topple the giant behaved in part, just like those in fact they (if more rightfully) oppose suppressing them and/or apparently their books, and if Amazon had been a person, he sure as hell would have been lynched without a trial outright. A mega corp. like that might take a while to fix shit and no doubt have to deal with more than just complaints to be answered ASAP. Even small businesses take weeks to react, if they ever noticed it before all this erupted anyway and finally located the problem.

    Besides, how about this ‘scenario’ just to end it on a ‘lighter’ note: maybe just ONE of their cataloguing employees with a sad grudge against gays (and/or Amazon) simply pressed a ‘certain category' button, and there went the lovely gay books of his/her discontent, along with others not to make it ‘too' obvious anti-gay but big enough to cause mega trouble. Think about it. The possibilities are endless. Take care everyone.

    http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/04/the-failure-of-amazonfail/

    ReplyReply

  120. Mark A. Michaels
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 10:28:01

    There are many misstatements in the above post and in Shirky’s entry, which first appeared on Gawker. I’ve copied, edited together and revised a series of my responses to Shirky on Gawker and a post on Facebook this morning because the points merit repeating here:

    It’s clear to me that without the #amazonfail outcry, the situation would not have been resolved (to the extent that it has been) nearly so quickly.

    As an author of books on sexuality who was affected by the delisting and as an amazon affiliate and long-time customer, I’m still outraged. It was clear to me from the start that this wasn’t about GLBT issues alone. It was more than stupid; it was the outgrowth of an indefensible policy.

    As a writer, a supporter of sexual freedom, and a believer in freedom of expression, I’m deeply offended that amazon secretly tags certain materials as adult, and provides no recourse for challenging that designation. This uproar may have been caused by a technical error that led to the inclusion of many additional books in the “adult” category, but it’s the attitude itself and the utter lack of transparency that are the real issues. Those things are a matter of company policy and are therefore intentional, even if this massive fail was an accident.

    The “glitch” has not been resolved. Although the rankings have been restored, the print editions of our books still don’t turn up when I search my name, and the “recommended for you,” selections, which are based on browsing history are filtering for sexual content. Now maybe these things take time to repair, but we’re now five days in.

    Here’s what amazon should do, imo, and if it wants my business back. Finish fixing the so-called cataloging error; come clean about the existence of this policy; let the public know exactly what that policy is and what criteria are used when materials are designated as “adult;” provide authors with a mechanism to challenge the designation; stop hiding materials from customers who might want to purchase them; make the ranking system fair and accurate by including all books and DVDs in its catalog. If amazon deems it necessary to have a filtering system, a safe search approach would be a much less damaging way to do it.

    The policy, not the “glitch,” is the problem. It always has been. The glitch just brought attention to a secret policy that is unacceptable in its own right.

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  121. DeMoy
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 14:33:12

    @Mark A. Michaels: I can agree with what you say (except the first line) here per se like many others' statements, and have in fact said so on other blogs, or that this ‘storm’ no doubt brought this to Amazon’s attention ‘sooner’ – (And at least you noticed that this wasn't exclusively a GLBT issue, many others however ignored outright, and then simply attacked those who tried to view the issues more neutrally at first). But if Amazon ever had noticed this problem before all this, and just how quickly it is for them to solve given issues, if it was enforced on them by possible legislatures e.g. to apply sudden changes to certain categories (and then call it their ‘policies’) or if it was any ‘glitch’, is not for us to ‘dictate’ them, no matter the justified ‘outcry' in general (and your penultimate paragraph is a very good ‘fix’ to sort the current (Amazon) issue, but still up to them).

    But I for one actually don’t see anything wrong with gay fiction (with any kind of sexual content obviously, NOT because it's ‘gay sex' or written by a ‘gay author') not to be labelled ‘adult’, when sex in any form simply is ‘adult’, (and that mainly to the majority of people the much smaller GLBT community simply doesn't represent, fact). Sure, other stuff should rightly therefore be tagged the same which hasn’t been (@Amazon) – or nothing should be ‘labelled’ at all in my opinion. But argue that with the site for (their) various reasons, or of course mainly the (more repressed US) public (pressure) forcing them to tag ‘certain' stuff (‘suddenly' perhaps) and make them play nanny, even if they (Amazon) might not want to but have to meet certain criteria, (and that with instant rejection as we saw, which points to the likelihood that it's not Amazon's suddenly appearing ‘morality issue' at all, but the puritan ‘US mind' we don't suffer so badly abroad).

    So why simply ignore that it might have been enforced on them per a new legislature e.g., or that Amazon has more to deal with than complaints from a certain minority group only, or that it could take weeks to first identify and then solve a ‘problem'. If it was an ‘error’ on the other hand, the community simply rejected the same at no proof either way that is was, THAT didn't look too good as a reflection on the community as a whole, and any anti-gay ‘lobbyists', or the little mind happening to come across these blogs surely laughed at how they started attacking their own core, as soon as someone called for more patience.

    Besides, if you (@Mark A. Michaels) state my previous post represents ‘many (?) misstatements’, then kindly point to them, since I doubt there are, and all I did was ‘quote' for one, what Amazon did (offer apologies and explanations, the majority of the community simply rejected outright, fact – (when I joined a couple of days into these blogs)) and two, the UK TV news report saying only the US site had messed with rankings I saw on telly, which is more than fact when ‘they' found it that way. (The Stephen Fry bio part.)

    All else I cannot see as being ‘misstated’ at all, and only because this ‘Shirky’ blog takes and attracts a more neutral approach doesn’t make it lesser important than those going full steam ahead with (still unproven) accusations, and possibly think them or myself ‘anti-gay'. I only checked on many things again yesterday, and all's there, ‘again' if you will, sure, and I never said they hadn't been missing or weren't de-ranked at all, since, when I checked the first time days ago, nothing was ‘wrong', (except many books appeared as Kindle editions/options ‘only’) which people simply didn't accept and unjustly attacked me for it the same.

    But what I simply found even more shortsighted and very counterproductive than hasty accusations to the gay community as a whole, was their adamant stance that this was done ‘deliberately' (I still doubt until proven, see others’ blog entries for ‘many' possible ‘reasons') – nothing else (and the ‘alternate scenario’ was obviously a more light-hearted idea to end this). If it HAD been confirmed as a conscious move against GLBT directly, fine, and I'd been the first to desert Amazon as I said before. But it hadn't been ‘proven' so far since it didn't affect only those books – fact. For whatever ‘reasons' is beyond our reach anyway and doesn't warrant to simply ‘believing' it was malice or sudden ‘policy' directed ‘against' the community. If you cannot see it from my more objective viewpoint, so be it.

    But I'd rather be happy now that it's over and the books and rankings are back and not still be ‘outraged'. It won't be the last time anything ‘like this' or more mess will happen to this (or any other minority) community. But a little less impulsive ‘outrage' and more objective dealing with it would be much more productive and helpful not only in general. Otherwise you're nothing but exactly like those who blindly attack you in the first place, and all just for your ‘orientation' or choice of literature – reading or writing it, like myself. WE have to teach THEM with cooler heads and more intelligent reason, NOT with more overreacting aggression, or ‘they' will never learn and just be confirmed in their small-mindedness that we're ‘sick', (or that all erotica writers ‘promote’ rape and whatnot else nonsense e.g.) mega corporation or the little smallmind in the street don't make no difference.

    THAT's what ‘I' tried to get across – and obviously didn't produce hoped for nourishing but squashed fruit. Shame. On with more gay writing then to flood the anti-gay bigots some more instead. Ta ta everyone.

    ReplyReply

  122. Mark A. Michaels
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 15:04:33

    @DeMoy:
    I consider the following to be misstatements:

    1) Your reference to “clear-headedness,” which I took to mean Shirky’s post; it was not clear-headed at all, in my view.

    2) Your reference to “hearsay” when in fact, a lot of the authors who complained (and several of whom pointed out that it was not just GLBT books) did so based on their own experiences. I, for one, called amazon customer service, spoke to a supervisor and got the same response about “policy,” verbatim.

    3) As far as I’m aware, amazon has made one formal (and evasive) statement to the media on this subject. The rest of the information is based on anonymous sources within the company, so I don’t think it’s fair to say amazon has “given statements” to the news.

    4) The UK news report is inaccurate. Our books were de-ranked on amazon in the UK, France and Germany (I didn’t check Canada and Japan.) Other authors have had the same experience.

    5) I’m very confident (and I’m an attorney) that the de-ranking has nothing whatsoever to do with legislation in the US.

    Finally, with regard to your current post (and I won’t bother to address everything you’ve written.) It is not “over,” and the rankings are not “back,” at least not fully. Our books remain at a disadvantage, compared to other books not similarly tagged. A full business week has gone by, and there’s only been a partial fix.

    ReplyReply

  123. #Amazonfail, the Google Books Settlement, and the importance of open access for preserving cultural heritage: In honor of National Library Week « The Learned Fangirl
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 15:36:36

    [...] #Amazonfail censorship/ glitch / griefing situation last weekend shows the power of publics working together and the organic nature of much of tagging and movementsourcing; people will [...]

  124. Amazon blames human error for LGBT derankings | Retailer to publish uncensored doujinshi in English | Tokyovation
    Apr 17, 2009 @ 20:44:09

    [...] There are still lingering doubts and inconsistencies for some.  Dear Author brings up past episodes of similar manipulations.  Vroman’s Bookstore blog writes the fiasco demonstrates the dangers of [...]

  125. DeMoy
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 12:12:46

    @Mark A. Michaels: (This will be my last post concerning this matter.)

    In response to your first address point to oblige your kind reply – I not only meant ‘Shirky’s’ blog in general, plus the many entries found there more leaning towards his own more objective sentiments, but also others on other blogs who were NOT intent on shredding Amazon outright from the start at no facts established at that point. If you personally don’t consider this as more ‘clear-headed’ approach, that’s your prerogative to think so. But it cannot be considered a ‘misstatement’ of mine since they were more ‘clear-headed’ in MY view. So much for differing ‘views' then ‘only'.

    Secondly, ‘hearsay’ is all ‘I’ got when I joined a couple of days into the mess, for one in terms of what ‘really' happened – Therefore ‘my’ saying it was not ‘fact’ (or ‘hearsay') is correct, since this was an ongoing issue and things apparently changed daily at their own updating/fixing things etc. – So when B looked after A had seen different ratings/books missing or not etc, and when C joined with his/her ‘opinion' it was different again – Which means, what they or you and I saw and took as given ‘fact’ at that point in time was ‘fact’ to them/us. Or as you put it, their/our personal ‘experience’. Which in fact is exactly the same you however quoted as ‘misstated’, when it's not, only different wording.

    Thirdly, I for one have seen a couple of ‘public statements' made by Amazon on several news sites – if to believe them was NOT the issue, and obviously had been rejected by the community – but that ‘I’ saw several at given times therefore is nonetheless ‘fact’ to me. I’m in the UK and get ‘different’ news bulletins btw, so don’t forget different location and sources in this matter. If these news statements were ‘official statements’ by Amazon or not, is not for me to hazard. So again, that’s not ‘misstated’ but fact of what ‘I’ read/heard.

    Fourthly, AGAIN – all I did was ‘quote’ that particular UK report, which to me (and undoubtedly others) was ‘fact’ at that given time when we saw it. If, again, their (the news channel's) findings were ‘true’ to ‘you’ is another matter altogether, since we here saw a comparison of the UK and US sites which showed/not showed rankings. (Of that Stephen Fry bio e.g.) So don’t say I ‘misstated’ their own report findings recorded on film, (which it’s still on YouTube btw.) and if ‘I’ ‘believe’ them is another matter again.

    Fifthly, AGAIN – I said some state's legislation ‘could’ have been the reason for their sudden ‘adult policies’ changes – NOT that it was ‘fact’. It was only one of several options offered to be taken into consideration (based on the too obvious lesser gay-friendly ‘US politics') – nothing more. Ergo, not a ‘misstated’ quote either, but simply possible explanation of what made Amazon apply adult tags suddenly. If you say that's unlikely (as an attorney) so be it, no problem. I don't care either way and was just a possibility.

    As to your last paragraph – when I said ‘it’s over’, that means it’s over for me, simply because we will on the face of it never know what ‘really’ happened with the rankings etc. (unless it was an ‘error’ that’s still simply being rejected, fine, do so) – Ergo, there’s nothing more ‘we’ or I can do at this point, and forcing Amazon to ‘come clean’ hasn’t transpired so far, and as I said, probably won’t happen in the near future (no matter how many times affected customers complain to them it seems). Since, as I said before too, it will take no doubt longer than a ‘week’ to even get to any complaints, and when calling them and they give you the same old tune or new policy routine, well, take that up with THEM again if you have to, NOT me.

    Or simply go somewhere else if you're not happy with Amazon, I'm not their representative, only a ‘customer' who didn't have any trouble with them so far (and I don't care about their tags and rankings or (what) not btw. at all). I'm not against the community by simply trying to analyse the contentious issues more objectively, rather than blindly join any intent to shred the giant and whatever ‘he' does is outright rejected. I suffered dangerous shit like that in real life just because I'm ‘different' or a ‘foreigner', or whatnot – don't do it. It works both ways, and always backfires, remember that.

    Or, why not simply accept one of their ‘explanations' and move on? Again, when ‘I' checked on certain books ‘they’ had been ‘fixed’, or were ‘still’ there (or ‘again’, fine, I never said some weren't ‘missing' at any ‘point' prior to my joining) and other authors (I know ‘personally') have found them ‘back intact' as well. If some are still missing to ‘your’ words or are getting fixed, then that’s just the same problem: different experiences of differing parties at different times. So none of what ‘I’ said, was ‘misstated’ but fact at that time to ‘me'.

    Besides, this issues is about what ‘Amazon' did, NOT what ‘I’ read or saw that doesn’t concur with YOUR ‘experiences’. Or I simply could return the ball and say what you countered was just as misstated, when it's all ‘only' based on our differing experiences at different times. I'm not the only one with differing ones. (Otherwise you can just say they or I ‘lied' I doubt you could/would, not to worry.) But that way we’re still just hacking away at our own core, NOT the ‘issues’, (which is what I tried to actually expose and you promptly repeated by nitpicking my contributions). But for me this issue is passé now, I'm done with this entire mess. Keep together, not fight each other. Take care all.

    ReplyReply

  126. CCR
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 23:16:09

    DeMoy = tl;dr

    BLAH BLAH BLAH

    A lot of people seem eager to brush this whole episode aside because Amazon supposedly “apologized,” “explained,” and “fixed” the problem.

    I never saw anything resembling an actual apology. I don’t buy the explanations — at least three, as of last count. And the problem was not a “glitch,” it is the system of deranking books marked as “adult” so they don’t show up on searches. THIS, as far as I can tell, is still policy. Therefore it has not been “fixed.” Heck, I just did a search and “homosexuality” is still returning a list of anti-gay books.

    I don’t hold out much hope that anything else will be forthcoming from Amazon, but I don’t plan to do business with them anymore. I’d like to shop where certain books aren’t hidden under the counter.

    And #amazonfail was not a failure. It drew attention to an issue that had been going on for months with no action from the company. Public pressure forced them to do something, even if their response wasn’t adequate in my opinion. At least most people now know that Amazon’s searches and recommendations are dishonest. Huzzah for activism and free speech.

    ReplyReply

  127. DeMoy
    Apr 19, 2009 @ 13:48:31

    @CCR: Take that up with Amazon directly, and don’t do the same as some others have by saying, ‘blah blah blah' to what they have to say about it from THEIR own view and experiences, which is fact to THEM, so yours has no more validity than theirs which could be changeable at any rate. And just so to tell you the same – if your search of ‘homosexuality’ brings up anti-gay stuff first, then that’s a sad reflection of what the ‘general public’ is buying ‘foremost’, NOT Amazon’s ‘policy’. If you wanna believe it or not is up to you, and could simply buy somewhere else if you’re unhappy with it.

    Besides, if ‘I’ had been one of those ‘brushing it all aside’, I’d not bothered engaging into this discussion in the first place to see what's going on, just by trying to call for more objectivity and wait, like many have in fact. If YOU’re still unhappy, yeah, please do go somewhere else, but don’t call others ignorant who won’t. It’s about Amazon – NOT their own viewpoints that won’t concur with YOURS still bent on rejecting Amazon's ‘explanations’, when some in fact do accept them and are finished with it no matter the actual outcome leaving many unsatisfied.

    But I too doubt Amazon's will react to us any further regardless of how much YOU want them to by leaving more comments they’ll never actually read anyway. So simply take that up with AMAZON as long as you need to DIRECTLY – NOT the publicly contributing blogger. WE’re not the ‘issue’, Amazon is. Period.

    And if you wanna read some more or want to comment on them – here’s another link to other likeminded bloggers. Take care.

    http://queersunited.blogspot.com/2009/04/is-amazon-censoring-lgbt-books.html

    ReplyReply

  128. Amazon ranking controversy « Ana Pires 2.0
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 18:45:38

    [...] want to believe this is true, but the issue is far from being over. This person right here is very articulate and informed, so just go ahead and her post. Very thought provoking. I guess that’s it for now. Tagged with: Amazon, Homophobia, [...]

  129. Check Out “The Learned Fangirl” – Fair Use Lab
    Apr 29, 2009 @ 15:39:15

    [...] #Amazonfail censorship/ glitch / griefing situation last weekend shows the power of publics working together and the organic nature of much of tagging and movementsourcing; people will [...]

  130. Moving on, letting go « Janicu’s Book Blog
    Jul 26, 2009 @ 14:06:32

    [...] links to Amazon up here again.   1) They fixed the problem with the amazonfail (even though their explanation left me kinda meh) 2) They apologized for moving customers books from their kindles 3) While I still feel irritated [...]

  131. Publishing Talk » Blog Archive » amazonfail - 10 unanswered questions
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 11:47:13

    [...] Dear Author give a very good analysis of why Amazon’s explanation is none at all. Pandagon also explain why it doesn’t add up. And Patrick at Vroman’s Bookstore writes [...]

  132. amazonfail – 10 unanswered questions « publishingtalk_dev
    Nov 09, 2009 @ 12:02:22

    [...] Dear Author give a very good analysis of why Amazon’s explanation is none at all. Pandagon also explain why it doesn’t add up. And Patrick at Vroman’s Bookstore writes [...]

  133. Some Thoughts On Amazonfail & Some Finalish Stats « afterthree.net :: rachelle saunders
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 13:52:56

    [...] and the Cost of Freedom’s ThoughtsThe Fallout of #Amazonfail Continues (National Post)Why Amazon’s Explaination is None At All [...]

  134. yoli
    Nov 11, 2010 @ 16:59:48

    nice site/blog/post

    ReplyReply

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